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3 Easy Tips To Improve Your Next Talk

There is no shortage of conferences within the EMS space, and presenting at one of these conferences can be an excellent opportunity for professional growth. However, the difference between a decent presentation and an amazing presentation lies in the clarity and call to action. What will you give them to walk away with?

My kids always feel the need to walk out of a toy store with some sort of toy, and people attending classes do the same. Give them something to leave the conference room with, and they will rave about it at dinner that night with their colleagues.

Here are a few tips I have found helpful for providing clarity and a tangible call to action.

"Zoom in and then zoom in again."

Knowing that the audience will only retain about 10-20% of what you say, you shouldn't try to cover 100% of the topic. For example, instead of covering sepsis as a whole, try zooming in on something specific about it, such as identifying sepsis in EMS, and maybe even zooming in again on how clinicians can utilize capnography to identify sepsis.

The audience wants to walk out feeling like they learned something specific, not like someone pitched them a proposal for renewable energy on a two-story elevator ride.

I personally believe that our job as conference presenters is to inspire rather than actually teach. Teaching would be great, but we rarely have enough time to dive much deeper than surface knowledge, and attempts to go deeper than that often leave the audience confused and without clarity. We should feed the audience's curiosity and make them want to go home and dig deeper. I have always approached conference talks with the mindset that I am there to provide the trailer, not the movie.

Pictures Read Faster Than Words.. well, most do.

Reading takes longer than looking at a picture, which means your audience spends less time decoding the information on the slide and more time listening to you. In animation, there is a principle called silhouette. It has to do with how well the character's pose reads.

When you are trying to convey an emotion or point within a short period of time, make it easy for your audience to "get a read" on the point made, but don't make them actually read it.

On the topic of providing the audience with "quick reads," if you are planning to discuss a study with a large audience, copying and pasting the graphs from the actual paper is rarely a good idea. If they want the nitty-gritty details, they can download the paper and read it over coffee in the morning when they get home from the conference. Your job is to show them the study exists and what you took away from it. I would like to build out a study like this and ask the audience what they guess about a few of the variables. Imagine I throw this slide up and ask, "What percent of the standard ACLS group do you think survived to discharge?"

By holding off on the actual values and having the audience guess, you turn it into a game of "Oooh, I wonder how close I was!" This is how you not only make a slide read easier but also how you keep the bird's (audience) interest.

Call To Action (CTA)

With every talk, you should ask yourself what the CTA is. When your audience leaves the conference and is sitting at dinner with colleagues, and they ask, "How was that _______ class you went to today?" You want them to have one thing that really stands out. An easy way to do this is literally to say something along the lines of:

"If there is one thing I want you to take away from this talk, it is _____________."

You can add multiple takeaways, but it's important to realize that there is an inverse relationship between key takeaways and the number they actually retain.

Have you ever noticed that you can watch a hilarious comedian, but when you try to remember some of the jokes, you can only remember the first and last ones? Our brains are kind of weird in that they start off attentive, wander off, and like to wake up and start paying attention again when they feel like the talk is about to end. This actually has a name, and it is commonly referred to as the "hammock."

Adding a summary slide can help wrap up a talk and leave a very clear CTA. I typically do something like this and build them out one at a time so the audience can't read ahead and mentally check out.

On the topic of CTA, I have noticed a trend of presenters blasting through their presentation and then asking, "What questions do you guys have?" When nobody has any questions, they will thank the audience, end their talk, and walk away (often confusing the audience as to whether it is even time to clap yet).

There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking questions, but to get the largest impact, the last thing you say to the audience should be the CTA or takeaway summary. You do this by allowing a spot for questions before your summary/takeaway slide. This allows you to address any questions from the audience and not ruin the ending to a solid presentation with awkward silence.

I will end this short blog by saying I am definitely not an expert on public speaking, and the tips within this article are largely opinions based on experience as both a presenter and the audience. However, I do not think I am unique in the desire for clarity and a meaningful CTA.


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